Because of COVID-19, spectators are banned at the 2020-21 Tokyo Olympics that were pushed back a year and the rising costs of moving the games around every four years – and scandals – have raised support for returning them to Athens permanently.
In a feature in The Washington Monthly, Contributing Editor Timothy Noah made his case, adding to those of others ignored over the years because the International Olympic Committee – based in Lausanne, Switzerland, not Athens – makes so much money shopping the games.
The chaos of COVID, and declining public interest in the Games during an era of streaming, social media, and other attractions, has renewed the idea about bringing the Olympics back to the country that created them in ancient times and where the first modern version was held in 1896 and again in 2004.
With more than two dozen athletes testing positive, the United States sending a backup team of NBA players getting beaten, and Japan 13 hours ahead of East Coast time in America, the games have become a kind of afterthought.
“Toyota, one of the principal corporate sponsors, has announced it won’t run any Olympic-themed advertisements during the games, presumably because any association with the foolish decision to damn the pandemic and go ahead with this year’s games threatens to become a serious public-relations liability,” wrote Noah.
The 2024 Games are returning to Paris – where they were held in 1900 and 1924 – and the 2028 Olympics back to Los Angeles again, where they were held in 1932 and 1984.
But there was only one bidder for the 2032 Games – Australia's third-largest city – bringing them back to the country which hosted them in Melbourne in 1956 and Sydney in 2000. Tokyo also held them in 1964.
Opposition to hosting the Olympics has intensified – Bostonians kept out it there with protests – and the costs and seeing sites abandoned after the two weeks of play has added to the sense that it's not necessary to keep moving them.
That would lessen the power of IOC and its lucrative shopping for sponsors and host cities but be a boon to Athens and Greece, where there are plans to renovate the Olympic Stadium.
“Host countries are never ready to host the Olympics. Sometimes it’s because stadiums aren’t yet built,” the report noted, and while the Games are always held, they are forgotten faster than the limited time they spent in a city.
“Host countries end up wondering whether the whole thing was really worth the hefty bribes they paid to the International Olympic Committee (IOC),” added Noah, as some critics want the Games to just end. Period.
The magazine's Editor is Greek-American Paul Glastris, who's a leading proponent of returing the games to the homeland and Noah noted the irony of the games NOT being in Athens.
“You wouldn’t hold the Salzburg Music Festival in Akron, or the Rose Bowl in Burkina Faso. Why would you host the Olympics anywhere but where they began? To do otherwise smacks of cultural appropriation,” he wrote.
He added that, “The Olympics are a Greek invention that express Greek ideals about the grace and beauty in physical prowess. These ideals are respected the world round, which is why nations from across the globe participate. They’d be no less inclined to participate if the Olympics stayed put in Greece”.
He said pragmatism, not culture or sentiment is the main reason though. The Athens sites could be refurbished and used in between The Games, and the city and country would every four years see a financial bonanza on top of tourism.
“The competition to be chosen host country is an open invitation to financial corruption. And constructing the facilities in which to stage them is a near-tragic exercise in redundancy. How many former Olympic villages does the world need?” he asked.
He said that Greece should get some financial help in bringing the Olympics back to their home, the IOC perhaps sharing broadcast revenue instead of hoarding it and who knows where the money goes?
This is not a new idea: other writers and backers of The Games being in Athens have written about it before – including The National Herald – but it seems to be picking up some purchase even if it couldn't happen until 2036 at the soonest.
Indonesia – a country which has won only 32 Olympics medals, for badminton, weightlifting and archery wants the 2036 Games and said it would pull out all the stops to get them, which could line the IOC's pockets even deeper.
He said that Greece would have to be consulted but it would seem that the opposition could be limited, especially when there's money involved.
“The first couple of times Greece hosts the Olympics will be rocky. Expect Sports Illustrated to be merciless. But by the third go-round the Greeks will likely get the hang of it,” he said.
After all, they've had centuries of practice.